Swedish Readers to Get First Glance into World of China’s Marginalized Reindeer Herders

With the upcoming launch of Ett brokigt band om renens horn, we have a rare instance of a member of China’s dwindling reindeer-herding Evenki telling her people’s story in a European language. Given the historic

“There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki.”

marginalization of Scandinavia’s own semi-nomadic reindeer-herders, the Sami, it is particularly significant to see that the first translation of the novel will appear in Swedish.

Translator and co-publisher Anna Gustaffsson Chen tells me that the book is being printed right now, and should be available “within a few weeks.” It is translated direct from the novel in Chinese, 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), authored by Keradam Balajieyi, the daughter of the Evenki’s last Shamaness. See here for more about the novel.

The unique lifestyle and gradual 20th-century demise of the Evenki, particularly the Aoluguya Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains on the China side of the Amur, has actually been fairly well documented, but usually by outsiders. One of the first written records was penned by Gu Deqing (顾德清), a Han with an intense interest in the Evenki, who — despite efforts by the authorities to protect the isolated Evenki from contact with the outside world — hunted with them in 80s and wrote (the as yet untranslated) 猎民生活日记 (lit., Diary of a Hunting People’s Life). Gu Tao (顾桃), his son by his Manchu wife, has since gone on to shoot several renowned documentaries about them.  See Gu Tao’s Northern Hunting People for dozens of still photos featuring the Evenki lifestyle, handicrafts and their beloved reindeer.

Nor has the plight of the Evenki been neglected by foreign anthropologists. See Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia, by Richard Fraser.

But perhaps the best known tale of the Aoluguya Evenki is the one told in Chi Zijian’s much-translated novel, 额尔古纳河右岸, now available in Dutch, English (The Last Quarter of the Moon), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. See here for a multilingual list of related links.

In fact, Chinese-to-Swedish translator Chen is also slated to translate The Last Quarter of the Moon from the Chinese, but has apparently chosen to do Ett brokigt band om renens horn first. It will be interesting to compare the two, because Chi Zijian is a monolingual Han writer imagining herself as an Evenki woman in her 90s, while Balajieyi is writing about her own people.

Altaic Storytelling: What We’re Reading Now (2017.5)

A few years back I read a longish, semi-autobiographical novel by Guo Xuebo (郭雪波), who was raised in the Horchin Grasslands of Inner Mongolia (科尔沁草原) and is a native speaker of Mongolian. Entitled 《蒙古里亚》— an attempt to replicate the sound of “Mongolia” in Chinese, I assume — it comprises three distinct narratives that are intricately intertwined as the novel progresses: A spiritual journey, in which the narrator/author seeks his Shaman roots; various “scenes” from the journey of a real-life, early 20th-century Scandinavian explorer among the Mongols; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu (特勒约苏), a modern-day Mongolian herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and the machinations of a greedy coal mining company. I just finished my draft translation of an excerpt from the novel, in which Teelee is jailed for threatening to self-immolate (自焚). The excerpt all takes place in jail, as a bevy of reporters, Banner honchos and a mysterious security official alternately congratulate, chide and interrogate him, the latter out of fear that — heaven forbid! — he has been inspired by Tibet’s self-immolating Buddhist monks.

I’ve just started reading Manas Resurrected, a short story by Xi’an’s Hong Ke (《复活的玛纳斯》红柯 著). As far as I know, it has not been translated yet. I’m intrigued for two reasons: The reference to the ancient Kyrgyz epic Manas, and the fact that it is set in the early 60s when the Soviet Union’s Kazakhstan did its best to lure Xinjiang residents (mainly Kazakhs and Uyghurs) across the border. Apparently as many as 60,000+ did actually leave China. I don’t know much about this mass movement or the politics behind it, but it has not been forgotten in the PRC. The exodus came up in a short story (Sidik Golden MobOff) and again in a novel (Zuilian) by the Xinjiang-based Uyghur author Alat Asem, both of which I translated. He repeatedly refers to the attraction a new life in Kazakhstan exercised on many Uyghurs during that period, and at times his protagonists speak of the émigrés with great disdain.

Extract: Alat Asem’s Novel “Confessions of a Jade Lord” (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

An excerpt from the soon-to-be-published novel by Alat Asem,

Confessions of a Jade Lord

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》

19

Rechristening a High-rise

In the midst of his hectic days as minor-character-cum-

Uyghur mafiosi: Alat Asem takes us into the colorful world of Xinjiang’s Uyghur jade traders

stagehand, Exet the Mouse’s magnificent new sobriquet — “Suet Exet” — fails to resonate. Those two sheep were indeed sacrificed in vain. Afterwards, he didn’t bother to invite the jade lords out to drink either; he embraced his bad luck. “There’s a history to your nickname,” says Eysa ASAP to console him, “and history cannot be rewritten.”

Eysa sets to work quickly seeking a middle-man to lobby for talks to buy all twelve stories of the high-rise that belongs to Big Stick Obul, who dug his first bucket of gold in a coal mine. In the end, it’s Silver-tongue Salam, endowed with a gift of gab that can entice buyer and seller to the negotiating table, who does the trick.

Salam’s deal-closing skills were first practiced at the Saturday second-hand bike market. As dust danced in the square, he honed his persona and honeyed trap. With help from splendiferous Time, the money in his pocket prospered year after year, and nourished his heart.

After dining on handheld mutton at a scenic riverside venue, Eysa, Mouse, Obul and Salam address the thorny issue of price.

“Ahem,” coughs Salam before he begins.

Deal or no deal, mutual trust shall prevail.

Roasted, stewed or hand-held, mutton remains meat all the same.

Heroes of the world, you have all come today!

The magnificent Monkey King is present today,

And so is our Uyghur Wise Man, Ependim.

It is cool cash that drives human life.

Today’s chop suey is better than tomorrow’s fresh meat;

promises are no good until they are cooked in the pot.

Today’s victory is today’s Paradise!

The big item on today’s agenda is a high-rise built to last. The seller is a person, not a lord, and so is the buyer, who is no one’s servant. My mouth is neither friend nor enemy. It speaks for your mutual interests. Had I ever harbored selfish intentions or betrayed bias toward either party, my tongue could not have secured me this bowl of arbitrator’s rice over the last two decades. The truth behind this, I’m sure you all understand.

The building is new, constructed just five years ago. Buyer and seller both have things itching at their hearts. Each of you knows this. My mouth is a hand that can scratch that itch for you. I do not know the depth of the water, but my sincere hope is that both duck and goose may cross safely. I care not wherefrom my camel guests hail, but obtaining some of the peppercorns, black pepper and ginger root is my goal. ‘Feed your master’s donkeys well and receive a good tip’ is my motto.

Blessed is Eysa Xojayin, and so is our Big Stick Obul, a hero who wrestled his way out of a dark coal pit. Coal Mine Mogul, please quote a price.

The mine owner states his asking price, and the figure is fairly close to the one that Eysa has guessed beforehand. This gives him confidence in the eventual outcome.

Obul is keen to offload his high-rise. It’s a matter of money-laundering, actually. The proceeds from the mines don’t have eyes but they have lips, and he worries that sooner or later that lucre will land him in hot water. Once the building is sold, his mind would be at peace, his tongue confident, and henceforth he could hang out at his leisure.

In the six hours that ensue, Salam’s silver tongue binds the two wicked hearts ever tighter. Eventually the high-rise’s surname changes, and a sizable lot of moolah finds its way into Big Stick Obul’s bank account — an eight-digit sum, in fact. On the ATM card, the dancing digits sigh long and hard; in the freezing underground vault, the bills reminisce over their tainted but exhilarating past. [Translated by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. For more information about Alat Asem, click here.]

Reclaiming the Evenki Narrative: Last Shaman’s Daughter Tells her People’s 20th-century Tale

There are only 30,000 or so Evenki (鄂温克族) on the Chinese side of the Sino-Russian border. But this Tungusic-speaking, reindeer-herding people — particularly the group known as the Aoluguya Evenki — has been the subject of several award-winning documentaries and even a novel that won the Mao Dun Literature Prize in 2008. According to an article on the China Writer’s Association web site (最后一位萨满之女), a new novel featuring the Evenki will launch end April.

During 2007-14, Gu Tao (顾桃) shot five films documenting the twilight of the Evenki way of life, including Yuguo and his Mother (雨果的假期) and The Last Moose of Aoluguya (犴达罕). (For an excellent backgrounder on his works in French, click here) Chi Zijian’s novel, The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), is based loosely on the same tribe’s often reluctant interactions with outsiders, first with the Japanese invaders under “Manchukuo,” and then the rapacious Han loggers and Marxist cadres of post-1949 “New China,” and has been translated into English (my version), Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, and will soon be available in French.

驯鹿角上的色带But take note: Neither Gu Tao and Chi Zijian are Evenki, though the former’s mother is Manchu (according to BBC’s web site). As far I know, their works have largely been well received in China, but they are not without potential controversy. I have watched several of Gu Tao’s documentaries on a set of CDs (not sure if these are final versions shown at film festivals abroad), and at times they are disturbing, the raw footage of some hard-drinking Evenki in particular. Chi Zijian’s novel is a bold experiment in its own right, as she, a monolingual Han writer, puts herself inside the head of the female Evenki narrator and recounts the entire tale in the first person.

In both cases, I can’t help wondering how these works of art would be viewed by indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada or the US, where “reclaiming the narrative” back from one’s colonizers is nowadays considered absolutely imperative. [Read more…]

Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic

A while back I stumbled upon a short Chinese news item about a newly discovered handwritten manuscript of the Kyrgyz Epic of Manas (玛纳斯史诗). This centuries-old trilogy in verse recounts the exploits of the legendary hero Manas, and his son and grandson in their struggle to resist external enemies and unite the Kyrgyz people. Along with heroic tales such as Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu, Manas is considered one of the great Turkic epic poems. To get a feeling for how it sounds, listen here to a brief recitation by Manas scholar Elmira Köçümkulkızı.

Mural of Manas in OshAccording to the report (手抄本被发现), a retired cadre named 吾米尔·毛力多 in Xinjiang’s Wuqia County recently donated a 570,000-line, Kyrgyz-language Manas libretto to the local branch of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles.

Based on the notes of a famous Manas storyteller or manaschi named 艾什玛特·玛木别朱素普, the text was painstakingly hand-copied by the cadre in the 1950s. At some point during the Cultural Revolution he learned the original had been seized and burnt, so he wrapped his own copy in several layers of cowhide and buried it in his courtyard for safekeeping.

“Now,” the news report quotes him, “I figure it is time to let this hand-copied manuscript see the light of day.”

Intrigued by the gap in time between the manuscript’s burial and its “re-discovery”— after all, the Cultural Revolution ended almost 40 years ago — I wondered why the text of an ancient Turkic epic like Manas is so politically sensitive. [Read more…]

List: Modern China-based Evenki Authors & Their Published Works

* Under Construction *

Modern China-based Evenki Authors &

Their Published Works

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 8.56.19 PMThis list is based mainly on authors published in 2015 in 《新时期中国少数民族文学作品选集·鄂温克族卷》(lit, Selected Fiction by Ethnic Minority Writers in the New Period, Evenki Volume, at left), but I’ve added in many of their other published short stories and novels. All links are to Chinese text unless the linked word is in English.

Although the Evenki live on both sides of the Amur, my list below covers only those in the PRC. Of course, there were Evenki poets born and raised in the Soviet Union, such as Alitet Nikolaevich Nemtushkin, and Nikolaĭ Oëgir, who both used an Evenki script developed in Soviet times.

If you’re keen to learn the current state of Evenki as a spoken language, see Tungusic Languages Under Threat. Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì also makes interesting reading.

If you have anything to add or correct, please leave a comment!

阿日坤:

安娜: 访鄂温克族女作家安娜 . 《金霞和银霞》,《牧野上,她发现一颗星》,《牧野深处的眷恋》,《心波》,《飞驰的天使》,《芦苇荡的回声》,《哈迪姑姑》,《静谧的原野》,《欢腾的伊敏河》,《摇篮·摇篮曲》,《心潮》,《祝福您鄂温克》

娜仁托雅:

敖蓉: 鄂温克的气息.《神奇部落的神秘女人》,《映山红》,《古娜吉》

白淑琴:

道日娜:

德纯燕: 《美丽新世界》, 《初长成》, 《好时光》, 《旅行者》

德柯丽: 《小驯鹿的故事》 [Read more…]

Mapping Mongolian Music

In 蒙古音乐地图计划:如何面对外界错位的蒙古文化想象?Thepaper.cn reports on a young Chinese citizen of Mongolian heritage, Odon Tuya (敖登托雅) who has initiated her own “Mongolian Music Map Project” (蒙古音乐地图计划). Her aim: To document the current indie Mongolian music scene – including traditional musicians in Mongolian Music Mapplaces like Xinjiang – via published interviews and, eventually, to capture it on film. A writer and a music critic, she has already interviewed 150 musicians, agents, folk song scholars and fans, according to the report. Here’s an excerpt from the Jan 29 2016 interview conducted in Chinese (translation is mine):

Odon Tuya: Due to regional differences and local cultural history, there are many distinctions between musical categories. Differences in tribal culture exist not only in terms of language and dress; even music has been impacted. When you mention Mongolian music, many people think only of the horse-head fiddle [morin khuur or 马头琴], throat singing [hoomii or 呼麦 ] or long song [urtyn duu or 长调]. In fact, very few people have an understanding of the variety of musical types and instruments involved. Unity evolves and is based upon a foundation of collective characteristics and slight differences. Obscured cultural traditions and the Mongolian spirit [蒙古精神] are what is held in common; regional divergences are what has created such variety and richness . . . be it professional musicians or folk artists, and regardless of the musical genre or the instruments played, they represent the most intuitive manifestation of the Mongolian spirit.

Fiction Collections from Daur, Evenki and Oroqen Writers Launched

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 8.56.19 PMThree separate volumes of fiction in Chinese have just been published featuring the works of writers of three ethnic groups that have traditionally inhabited northeastern China and even further north in Siberia: the Daur, Evenki and Oroqen (Elunchun).

This is of interest because unlike ethnic groups like the Tibetans, Uyhgurs or Mongolians, none of the former languages has its own script and many of their speakers hardly spoke Chinese — much less wrote it — so until recently their tales were hardly available in print at all. The Daur speak a Mongolic tongue, while Evenki and Oroqen are Tungusic languages, the same family as Manchu.

Judging by the recent past, we can expect that some of these works — now that they are available in China’s national language — will gradually begin to appear in magazines specializing in Chinese literature in English translation, such as Pathlight. Up until now, English renditions of non-Han writers tended to focus on Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian originals.

The three volumes are part of a series available currently available only in Chinese, entitled 新时期中国少数民族文学作品选集, published by the Writers Publishing House (作家出版社). All three offer a retrospective of pieces published during 1976-2011, and at 400-plus pages, are pretty hefty tomes.

  • The Evenki volume (鄂温克族卷) contains 50 short stories and extracts from novels by 22 writers, including well-known authors 乌热尔图 (Ureltu, acknowledged pioneer of Evenki tales back in the 70s),涂志勇, 涂克冬·庆胜, 德纯燕, 德柯丽 and 娜仁托雅.
  • The Oroqen volume (鄂伦春族卷) contains 76 pieces, with short stories, extracts from novels and quite a bit of poetry by 敖长福, 孟代红, 刘晓春 and 刘晓红 and many other Oroqen writers. 
  • The Daur volume (达斡尔族卷) contains 50 pieces by 阿凤, 苏华, 苏莉, 晶达, 傲蕾伊敏, 赵国安 and安晓霞, and many other Daur writers. As the Daur often live in mixed ethnic environments, some pieces were written in Mongolian or other languages and translated into Chinese for this collection.

If you are interested in Chinese translations of fiction by Uyghur, Kazakh and Tibetan writers, see here.

Excerpt of the Week: The Nightjar at Dusk (黄昏夜莺)

So now the escapee nightjar and I were conspirators. I had to stay patient and play my part in its plot.

We stood a while longer, though of course the urgent call did not sound.

But the boy stood there motionless, gazing up at the spot where the bird had once perched. He already had what a hunter needs most, patience.

My feet were growing numb and I, at least, knew there was no point in waiting further.

“Maybe it’s gone,” I said, gently breaking the silence.

He murmured assent and lowered his head, then when I said nothing went back to watching. It’s a battle of endurance sometimes, to see who can be most patient. I was happy to lose.

“I didn’t see it fly off,” he said, unwilling to give up.

“Maybe it was too quick. It’s too dark to see.” I had to put it like that, or risk insulting him.

“Can’t have.” He wasn’t happy about it, but knew there was no hope.

“What kind of bird was it, anyway?”

“A jokjok.”

I could tell he had never heard this Evenki word before. He had so little of our traditional knowledge, our language. He spoke even less than I did.

Much of our old ways will be lost forever with the passing away of our old folk.

 

Extract from The Nightjar at Dusk, Pathlight Spring 2015 (p 28), by Gerelchimig Blackcrane (格日勒其木格・黒鶴)

 

Profile: Xinjiang-based Uyghur Writer Perhat Tursun

In Meet China’s Salman Rushdie, Foreign Policy’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian profiles Xinjiang’s controversial Uyghur writer Perhat Tursun (پەرھات  تۇرسۇن, 帕尔哈提·吐尔逊):

Perhat is the author of The Art of Suicide [自杀的艺术], a novel decried as anti-Islamic that in 1999 set off a religious firestorm among Uighurs, the largely Muslim, Turkic minority concentrated in the nominally autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang. What followed — years of threats, a de facto ban on Perhat’s works, and at least one book burning — belied the officially atheist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, which tightly controls the region. But tidal forces of history and competing civilizations have clashed over Xinjiang in recent decades, pitting the party against a local ethnic reawakening, resurgent Islam, and the latest entrant to the region, liberal Western thought. And Perhat, with the publication of his bold philosophical novel, found himself wedged between hardening ideological fronts — a fault line that would put his life in danger.

A few links to his writing:

  • Poetry: Two poems, Elegy and Morning Feeling, in English here,  and a poem in Chinese, here.
  • An older interview with him in Chinese, 一位维吾尔族作家的穿越生活
  • A bilingual synopsis of his PhD thesis on HamsaNizamiddin Alshir Nawayi’s monumental five-part poem (尼扎木丁·艾利狮尔·纳瓦依的巨著《五卷长诗集》)

Meanwhile, Darren Byler — who translates from the Uyghur — reports that his translation of Perhat Tursun’s short story, Plato’s Shovel, is set for publication in a collection of translated writing by non-Han writers.  He is also working on the first part of a trilogy by the author, entitled The Big City: Backstreets. When I know the publication details, I’ll post them.